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Social Media or Bust

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…”  Those immortal words were penned by the renowned Victorian poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in the mid-19th century. Rest assured, love poems will no doubt continue to thrive and be scribed by lovebirds, but perhaps a more telling question for the 21st century business enterprise might be:  On how many social media platforms shall I engage?  Let’s see if I can even count that high!

To be sure, engagement in social media is an undeniably essential 21st century tool to reach, influence and retain customers and business partners. Digital social media is a terrific marketing technique that is less costly than its paper-based analog partner and expands the visibility of the products and services of businesses. Not to mention being a terrific community builder.

Who was the trailblazer for this ubiquitous publicizing tool? It depends on to whom you pose the question. Some might argue it dates back to an early postal system, the advent of the telegraph or even the telephone and radio.  Each of these, according to Small Business Trends, would qualify since each method provides a means of quickly –well, relatively quickly when considering their respective eras- communicating news and information across long distances.

Alternatively, The History Cooperative begins its social networking saga in the 20th century declaring the website SixDegrees.com as the birth of social media.  Six Degrees, now defunct, enabled users to create profiles and friend others users.  Sound familiar?

For the more digitally curious that would like to know who created what when, the accompanying infographic, by Fandom Marketing,  succinctly portrays the major players and the years in which they gained prominence.

rise of social media

But enough history, how about the present?

While I’ve outlined the benefits of developing an appropriate social presence, not maintaining sufficient presence surely smacks of technological illiteracy.  Creating multiple accounts that gather dust due to inactivity sends a message: you are either no longer in business or you haven’t grasped the importance of creating good content regularly.

Judiciously choosing the right platform is where the magic begins. Rather than creating accounts on numerous platforms, choose the 2 or 3 that make sense for your business. For example, the local plumber might choose Facebook as his / her preferred platform.  It is community oriented and networks locally. Conversely, a seller of enterprise software to the Fortune 500 might opt for LinkedIn over Instagram.

If you are looking for further guidance on the platform that best suits your needs, Forbes recently wrote a piece Which Social Media Platforms Are Right For Your Business while Huffington Post offers their own opinion on digital networking here.

If you’re looking for SDI, you can learn more about us on Twitter, LinkedIn and, of course, our blog.


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Data Fixation

What do baseball, Wall Street and supply chains have in common? A fixation with data analysis, to start.

Once upon a time there used to be data… now it’s all about Big Data. Data collection and its high-tech partner, data analytics, is, according to Wikipedia a “process of inspecting, cleansing, transforming, and modeling data with the goal of discovering useful information, suggesting conclusions, and supporting decision-making. Data analysis has multiple facets and approaches, encompassing diverse techniques under a variety of names, in different business, science, and social science domains.” At the end of the day it is the quality of the data that reigns supremely.

Evidently, data analytics is embraced by an incalculable array of practitioners. But let’s get back to baseball first.

Michael Lewis’s 2003 business best seller, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, persuasively explains how Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane, using judiciously selected and interpreted statistical data, was able to assemble a very formidable baseball team on a budget far less than most other Major League Baseball teams. In the 2011 film version of the book, Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt as the data hero, (spoiler alert) the A’s don’t win the World Series. However the Boston Red Sox triumph a scant 2 seasons later by implementing the same statistical model established by the Athletics.

Additional variations of moneyball are played on Wall Street. Hungry to identify the trending prices of stocks and commodities, companies leverage the attendance at large business conferences and deploy data hunters to search for contacts that may have data valuable for forecasting the stock prices of other companies.

Hedge funds have gotten into the act, too.  According to the Wall Street Journal article, Wall Street’s insatiable lust: Data, data, data, “WorldQuant, a quantitative hedge fund based in Connecticut, has a team that reviews hundreds of data sets a year and works to bring online as many as possible that provide some value. Its staff of scientists and mathematicians then go to work on the data to see if it helps predict revenues at companies or other market phenomena.”

Comparable to the interpreted statistical data used in the baseball scenario, Wall Street relies on correctly interpreted data (quality data) to make decisions on investments and risk management. Incorrect or missing data arose as a key contributor to the mortgage crisis in 2008.

Who is else is using data analytics?  Although, a better question might be, “who isn’t?” The accompanying graphic, from McKinsey Consulting, paints a picture of which industries are engaged and the benefits they reap from using analytics associated with Big Data.

                      sdi big data

Not an industry itself, supply chain management is a key corporate service integral to a diverse range of industries. Not surprisingly SCM relies heavily on data analytics to optimize their supply chain, mitigate risk and perform demand/ supply forecasting.

In our procurement organization, with high volume transactions, we use analytics to consolidate and cleanse our volumes of data.  Company spend and supplier data are linked to allow greater insight into rising / falling commodity prices and sourcing options.  This heightened visibility allows us to reduce costs, mitigate risks, and tap into new suppliers – for ourselves and our clients.

More information on how we can help can be found here.


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How is your AI IQ?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been justifiably reaping its share of headline space lately – but it’s scarcely a new concept. In theory it appears analogous to 21st century science fiction, but its roots actually date back to the second century AD.

In ~ 150 AD, Heron – the celebrated Greek mathematician and engineer – designed and constructed mechanically / pneumatically operated men and self-operating machines known as automatons.  Similar to robots, they were designed to follow a predetermined set of instructions, yet acted as if they had a mind of their own. A subset of these devices were said to have been installed in temples to perform a range of tasks from the humble pouring of wine to rather disingenuously performing “magical acts of the gods” to win over skeptics within the congregation.

But we digress… automata was a very 2nd century innovation. And it has moved ahead significantly, since.

The concept of AI became prevalent enough and so closely linked to the potential of the 21st century that the eponymously titled film, directed by Steven Spielberg in 2001, was overwhelmingly embraced at movie houses around the world.  The concept was simple, especially in human terms. A technologically advanced -robotic boy yearns to earn the love of his human mother by becoming “real.”

Fast forward to the present. Countless businesses have ripped a page from Heron’s techno playbook by adapting his design as a powerful social interface on the Internet of Things. Late last year I penned a piece regarding the rampant use of “chatting” as a highly effective and functional way for business communication. Furthering this conversational concept, chatbots (chat robots) have not only become the popular kids in town but are saving businesses millions of dollars.  These chatbots, which simulate human conversation by leveraging A.I. technology, perform a multitude of human customer service tasks.

Businesses have gotten the message that this is an important and innovative tool not to be disregarded.

According to Business Insider (BI), “Foreseeing immense potential, businesses are starting to invest heavily in the burgeoning bot economy. A number of brands and publishers have already deployed bots on messaging and collaboration channels, including HP, 1-800-Flowers, and CNN.”  Their graph, below, illustrates the powerful financial impact of chatbot use across various services offerings.

chatbots

For those of us in Supply Chain Management, A.I. delivers more than chatbots.  A recent article from Supply Chain World outlined the impact A.I. will have on future supply chains. They cite a paper, written by Dr. Hokey Min from the College of Business at Bowling Green State University, who adroitly predicted the applicability of A.I. to several aspects of SC Management. Among these applications that have come to fruition are setting inventory safety levels, demand planning and transportation network design.

How about beyond the supply chain?

The Wall Street Journal published a comprehensive piece on how artificial Intelligence is transforming the workplace in general.  Details on the impact this technology will have on management and employees can be found here.


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Call It What You Will

Small, indirect, tail-end, small supplier, non-strategic, non-core, tactical, etc.  The list doesn’t go on much longer, but the spend unquestionably does. From our procurement perspective at SDI, indirect spend refers to the sourcing and purchase of goods and services that are not directly incorporated into a manufactured product.

For example, consider the components typically used to construct most computers. Processors, motherboard connector cables, random access memory (RAM) modules and precious metals used for wiring are among the many components used in the direct production and manufacture of laptops. These direct components are considered strategic purchases and are judiciously sourced and purchased by the procurement unit within the company.

Now consider the support or peripheral products and services that are necessary to market and sell the product – in this example, the laptop. Not quite as strategic and not used directly in the production of the laptop, indirect spend such as office furniture and supplies, maintenance  services, travel, and contingent labor enable the manufacture and sale of the product but are certainly not components.  Since these products and services are indirectly used to facilitate laptop sales, they are referred to as indirect spend.

Often, indirect spend categories are not as judiciously sourced purchased as their direct counterparts.

Why the difference matters

Implementing the trusty 80/20 rule, tail end spend is characteristically referred to as the final 20% of company spend.  The graphic below, courtesy of Capgemini Consulting, crisply depicts the segmentation of the smaller supplier, tail-end base.

supplier_tail

Since this indirect spend is considered non-critical, less strategic and frequently paid to smaller suppliers procurement organizations often employ fewer resources on the cost management of these indirect categories.  Worse, these fragmented costs and spot purchases are not even managed by procurement, but within individual business units that may be unfamiliar with effective procurement methodologies.

Yet, both types of spend are critical to the bottom line of the business.  Efficient cost management of the tail drives increased savings for the enterprise.  Reaping significant savings can be achieved by applying in-house procurement best practices to all cost categories. Or, relying on a third party with the right expertise.

Not surprisingly, organizations have made small supplier spend a priority in recent years.   Last year, the Hackett Group, recognizing that many procurement organizations, “may be leaving money on the table and deploying their resources inefficiently is in the low-value purchasing generally known as tail spend, “conducted a webinar to share their insights on small supplier best practices.

But not all companies are equipped to manage the complexities of smaller spend in-house. They rely on third party service providers such as SDI, whose primary focus is supply chain optimization. At SDI, we are a full lifecycle Business Process Outsourcing and Managed Services provider with extensive proficiency in small supplier, non-critical, tail-end spend.

You can learn more here on how we can deliver immediate and long-term benefits for you, as we have for many of our Fortune 500 customers.


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Funding Your New Bu$iness Venture

Earlier this month I blogged the desire to strike out on one’s own and launch a small business.

Easier said than done?

We all need a hand up occasionally, especially when faced with important decisions or funding large projects (home down payments come to mind). So too for the budding entrepreneur.  Fortunately, there are vital resources available to get your business from business plan to revenue reality.  Here are just a handful of sources that may provide the lucrative funding a promising business venture may pursue.

Small Business Administration (SBA)

Officially established over 60 years ago, through an act of Congress, the United States Small Business Administration was created to “aid, counsel, assist and protect, insofar as is possible, the interests of small business concerns.” Within less than a year of origination, the SBA was not only giving and guaranteeing business loans to small businesses; they were offering technical support and business training as well.

By year-end 2015 the SBA had approved over 30B worth of loans – not only giving a hand up to small businesses but driving economic growth simultaneously. Additionally, the SBA offers programs specifically designed to help develop and grow minority– and women-owned businesses.

Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA)

Working with multiple government entities and partnerships the MBDA is principally a U.S. agency that champions growth and international competitiveness of minority-owned businesses.  The MBDA can help gain access to capital and contracts via their nationwide network of business centers. These centers are manned with professionals armed with the expertise to offer financial counseling and growth strategies.

Crowdfunding

While the term crowdfunding might be fairly self-explanatory, that is funding a new venture or project product launch through the financial patronage of others (“the crowd”); the basics require old-fashioned sales and marketing skills.

Who are the members of the crowd? Family, friends, banks, enthusiastic backers, and angel investors are among the many.

Be prepared to create a compelling business case and marketing pitch to effectively showcase your ideas to potential investors. These investors, in turn, hope to reap the rewards –or equity- from your brilliant idea, flawless execution and eventual success.

Where to start

Other than old fashioned email solicitations, face to face requests or telephone tag there are a several platforms available to facilitate the collection of capital. Although hundreds of crowdfunding sites exist, the top sites for harvesting capital can be found here:

Digital trends list these sites as the best for 2016, while TechBullion lists these as the best sites to watch in 2017. Note: Kickstarter, Indieogogo and GoFundMe appear on both lists.

Grants

Lest we forget, grants (which you do not need to pay back) are a terrific resource to grow your business. Federally funded Grants.gov might not offer seed money for burgeoning enterprises, but once business is off the ground, there are a variety of options to assist with expanding the new venture. The government website is easy to navigate and is updated regularly to reflect new monies accessible.

2017 just may be the year for your breakaway move.


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Striking Out in the New Year

Striking Out in the New Year

We’re at the end of one year and start of the next. Which means that enduring tradition is upon us: making and upholding (with varying degrees of success) New Year’s resolutions.

Often, our resolutions are simple: shed a few pounds. Write more ‘thank you’ notes. Learn a new recipe or two. But for those with big ideas and an entrepreneurial spirit, why not try a resolution that’s a bit more ambitious?

Many among us harbor the desire to strike out on our own and launch our own small business (that, with hard work, will hopefully blossom into a medium- or large-scale business). But uncertainty often prevents these desires from becoming more than daydreams.

Why not change that in 2017? Here are four reasons for kicking off a career where you’re the founder:

  • You’ll be in good company. According to the Unites States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, entrepreneurship has been on the rise since 2010. That’s a good thing — for the entrepreneurs and national economy both. These new business embolden the labor market, drive competition, and create new jobs.

blog

  • Staff a winning team. Colleagues can be the best part of a job — but also the worst. When chemistry is lacking or personalities clash in the workplace, success suffers: deadlines are misses, customers are dissatisfied. Now, imagine hand-picking all those who work around you. Enticing, right? When you’re at the helm, you’re empowered to select the people and personalities that best suit you.
  • Strike the perfect work-life balance. First, let’s be clear: Working for yourself doesn’t mean not working. Without that dependable, twice-a-month paycheck, the pressure is on to perform and provide. But you’re also free from the 9-5 workday. As your own boss, set a schedule that accommodates your life. Suddenly, starting later or stepping out midday is perfectly OK

                           LINK: http://www.inc.com/guides/201101/top-10-reasons-to-run-your-own-business.html

Some of us use resolutions to change smaller things in our life, such as shedding extra pounds or promptly sending out creative thank you notes. But this year it just may be time to think big with a life changing decision.  Like breaking away and starting the business you have been envisioning for years.


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Collaborating… Innovatively

Remember chat rooms?

During the internet’s nascency, volumes of chat rooms materialized covering a copious array of topics for the like-minded, or perhaps the not so like-minded, to meet virtually and engage in rigorous discussion.

America Online (AOL) not only popularized the use of chat rooms, but quickly developed a more personal method of information swapping when they unleashed AOL instant messenger on dial-up internet users.  In fact, according to the Washington Post, “by 1997, the year AOL launched Instant Messenger as a stand-alone chat product the company boasted an estimated 19,000 chatrooms.  Users spent more than a million hours chatting each day.”

Long ago, during in the pre-digital analog era, global inhabitants had been chatting –most likely face to face, prior to the advent of the telephone – for thousands of years; for simple social interaction, information exchange or collaboration.

Now, as part of the Internet of Things (the interconnectedness of software-driven smart devices, cloud computing and networking), chat has become the popular kid in the digital neighborhood.

Why the renewed appeal of digital “chatting”?

Anonymity plays a part, particularly among social players. But the instant media, information and data sharing provides considerable benefits to business users. Last year Fast Company, the American business magazine, reported, “The long-lost chat room is experiencing a renaissance, and social media companies new and old are hoping to capitalize on the trend.” Due to group chat’s rapid and real-time interactive ability, it is no surprise this tool has emerged as a highly effective and functional way for business communication, flow of knowledge and collaboration. Not quite a complete replacement for email, conducting business via group chat does impressively diminish the inbox clog resulting from iterative, replay-all messaging.

Very recently, the Wall Street Journal not only proposed that group chat has surfaced as the hottest thing in IT, but that “chat is becoming the backbone of many businesses, bringing together both people and multiple software programs.”

What this means for supply chain operations.

Imagine an interface that integrates customer and supplier conversations with back-end applications where extended team players can swiftly and effectively resolve business issues with real-time player engagement and file sharing.

For example, you might have a customer who has very specific requirements for a commodity… at the right price. Armed with the right software and data, through real-time participation among customer, procurement, supplier and –if necessary – second tier suppliers, the lowest cost commodity with optimal specifications may be quickly achieved.

It just may just be time to eliminate endless email threads, unreturned phone calls and detached conference call participants.